Harsh Times

Opens at Meridian and other theaters, Fri., Nov. 10. Rated R. 120 minutes.

Cops-gone-wild movies and TV shows are the Angry White Guy counterpoint to thug-life melodramas: fantasies of abusing rather than seizing power, operating above the law rather than outside it. This caffeinated fit of antihero worship—the directorial debut of screenwriter David Ayer, who made detective with his bad cop thrillers Training Day and Dark Blue—straddles the genres: A ballistic ex-Ranger (Christian Bale) strung taut as razor wire misses his shot at the LAPD, only to get drafted by Homeland Security for dirty work in Colombia. To let off steam, he convinces his wary but susceptible buddy (Freddy Rodriguez) to blow off his job search and upwardly mobile girlfriend (Eva Longoria) for a substance-abusing sojourn through South Central. A south-of-the-border invasion ensues, followed by the inevitable cathartic violence. But whatever political statement Ayer intended to make with his Gulf War veteran–turned–human time bomb is swamped by the movie's obnoxious badass envy. Ayer sets Bale's bad guy up as a racist hothead yet marvels at his macho nerve, and the actor responds with a gloating display of American-psycho fireworks, the kind of vein-popping showboating that might as well be performed in a mirror. Harsh times? You can't imagine. JIM RIDLEY

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